FDA Files Lawsuit to Seize Healthy Food

On October 19, 2017, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) filed a complaint with a federal district court in Kansas to seize and condemn around $70,000 of raw camel milk, pasteurized camel milk, raw camel milk colostrum, and raw camel milk kefir.[1] The camel milk products are currently being held at a frozen food warehouse, My Magic Kitchen, located in Kansas City. The Kansas Department of has placed all the products under embargo, prohibiting their movement from the warehouse.

All labels on the frozen products FDA wants to seize bear the name Desert Farms; the Santa Monica, California based company is the largest raw milk distributor in the U.S. According to the complaint, Hump-Back Dairys of Miller, Missouri produced nearly all of the product being held at the warehouse; the dairy is, by far, the largest camel milk producer in the country.

There has been a thirty-year ban on raw dairy products (other than aged raw cheese) in interstate commerce; FDA interprets the ban to extend to raw milk camel products. In December 2016 Samuel Hostetler, the owner of Hump-Back Dairys, received a warning letter from FDA.[2] The letter to Hostetler warned that he was violating the interstate ban by shipping both raw camel milk and raw camel milk products in interstate commerce; Hostetler responded to the warning letter by informing the agency that he would be complying with the federal regulation establishing the ban.

Walid Abdul-Wahab, the president of Desert Farms, also received a warning letter from FDA in September 2016 but the letter did not mention the interstate raw dairy ban; instead the letter accused Desert Farms of violating the law by shipping “new drugs” that were not approved by FDA in interstate commerce.[3] The letter noted that Desert Farms was making health claims on its website and facebook page about how camel milk was being successfully used to treat various diseases, especially autism. The letter warned that the camel milk products were drugs because “they are intended for use in the care, mitigation and treatment of disease”. As such they were “new drugs” that needed approval from FDA before they could be marketed. The FDA approval for new drugs processing can cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The FDA suit filed for the seizure and destruction of the camel milk products alleges that Desert Farms’ social media pages (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram) linked to the company’s website contain claims that “demonstrate that the camel milk products are intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease, including autism, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, viral infections such as hepatitis, the genetic disorder Machado-Joseph, depression, gastrointestinal disease, heart problems, attention deficit disorder, autoimmune diseases, Hashimoto’s disease and cancer.”[4]

What neither the warning letters nor FDA’s complaint for seizure allege is that the camel milk products are adulterated or a threat to human health. As far as is known there has never been a case of foodborne illness in this country attributed to consumption of camel milk. Destruction of the camel milk products at the warehouse would be an absolute waste of healthy food.

It is estimated there are over 10,000 families with autistic children in the U.S. that purchase raw camel milk; many of these families pay $18 a pint or more for the product. There is a reason for that; parents of autistic children have found that raw camel milk and camel milk products can alleviate the symptoms of the condition known as autism spectrum disorder. The science backs them up [5]; pasteurized camel milk can be effective in alleviating the symptoms of autism as well though not to the same degree.

Earlier this year FDA released an article on its Consumer Updates page titled, “Autism: Beware of Potentially Dangerous Therapies and Products.”[6] In the article FDA warns about taking camel milk as a treatment for autism and autism-related symptoms. When FDA warns about taking a product for a disease, it is often because the product is a threat to the profits of the pharmaceutical industry.

FDA is seeking a court order to destroy over 4,300 8- and 16-ounce bottles of camel milk products; product that can help autistic children cope with their condition. The judge hearing the case has the discretion to release the product to Desert Farms.[7] If Walid Abdul-Wahab shows the court that any health claims are no longer on the Desert Farms website and social media and that he is willing to pasteurize the camel milk (with the interstate ban, he would have no choice if he wants the product released) and label the milk containers accordingly the judge could release the product to Desert Farms. Healthy food like this should not wind up in a landfill.

A court date for a hearing on the seizure petition has not been set yet.

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[1] United States of America v. Camel milk products, et al, Kansas Civil Action No. 17-2609 (2017). Access docket files via Pacer.gov for Case #: 2:17-cv-02609-CM-KGS. Retrieved 11/18/2017 from Justia.com at https://dockets.justia.com/docket/kansas/ksdce/2:2017cv02609/118800

[2] FDA warning letter to Samuel P. Hostetler (DBA) Hump-Back Dairys, dated 12/19/16. Retrieved 11/18/2017 at https://www.fda.gov/ICECI/EnforcementActions/WarningLetters/2016/ucm534108.htm

[3] FDA warning letter to Desert Farms, dated 9/15/16. Retrieved 11/19/2017 at https://www.fda.gov/iceci/enforcementactions/warningletters/2016/ucm524663.htm

[4] United States of America v. Camel milk products, et al

[5] “Casualties of the Raw Milk Ban”, January 17, 2017, Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund website. Retrieved 11/18/2017 at https://www.farmtoconsumer.org/blog/2017/01/17/casualties-raw-milk-ban/

[6] FDA, “Autism: Beware of Potentially Dangerous Therapies and Products”, www.fda.gov updated April 12, 2017; originally published April 25, 2014 (see https://www.actcommunity.ca/resource/3565/). Retrieved 11/18/2017 at https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm394757.htm

[7] United States Code, 21 USC 334(d). Accessible at https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/21/334

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The Wholesome Meat Act Hustle

inspecting the meat and work

This month the Maine Legislature held an emergency session, a move partly due to a threat from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to shut down Maine’s state meat inspection program. In June Governor Paul LePage signed into law Legislative Drawer (LD) 725, “An Act to Recognize Local Control Regarding Food Systems”. LD 725 establishes the power of local governments to devise their own regulations governing direct transactions between a local food producer and consumer; the bill gave the locality the power to allow the unregulated unlicensed sale of food direct from producer to consumer within its boundaries including the sale of meat from an animal slaughtered and processed on the farm. The USDA warned that, unless the state meat and poultry inspection program is governed by laws at least as strict as federal requirements, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will take over inspection of Maine establishments where livestock or poultry is slaughtered and/or processed. On October 24 the legislature passed an amended version of LD 725 which affirmed that state laws on slaughter and processing will be at least as strict as federal requirements.

The Wholesome Meat Act of 1967 (WMA) prohibits the sale of uninspected meat in intrastate or interstate commerce, with the Act requiring that an inspector must be present when slaughter takes place. The WMA extended USDA’s jurisdiction over meat and poultry slaughter and processing to intrastate commerce and only allows uninspected meat to go to the owner(s) of the slaughtered animals. Prior to the passage of WMA, farmers slaughtering on-farm were exempt from inspection as long as they sold direct to consumers; these sales could take place in interstate commerce, as well as intrastate.

Arguably, the Wholesome Meat Act of 1967 along with state mandatory pasteurization laws have done more to damage the rural economy and empty the countryside of sustainable family farms than any other developments in the past 50 years. Legislators, in passing the two measures, addressed what they perceived to be unsanitary conditions in the meat and dairy sectors. Unlike raw milk, where thousands of illnesses were attributed to milk produced at urban swill dairies, during Congress’ deliberation of the WMA testimony and evidence from proponents provided few, if any, cases of illness caused by the consumption of uninspected meat whether slaughtered on the farm or at a custom slaughterhouse facility.

What is currently happening in Maine presents an opportunity to make the public aware of how the supporters of WMA hustled Congress into passing the Act by looking at comments made shortly after the Act became law. What the passage of the WMA has led to has been the creation of a monopoly in the meat industry, a loss of consumer choice, a decline in the ability of small sustainable farms to meet demand, and a deterioration in food safety and quality.

In 1971 the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Small Business released a report titled, “The Effects of the Wholesome Meat Act of 1967 upon Small Business.” The report contains the following quotation:

In our judgment it is well to recall the key events leading to the enactment of the Wholesome Meat Act. Many in the meat industries are still bitter about what took place in 1967…. The general attitude was that the industry had been unfairly maligned, that the excesses of the few had damaged the reputations of them all and that the cost of compliance had been high, excessively high. There was contempt for the consumer groups, particularly certain of the “crusaders”–most notably Betty Furness (Presidential Assistant for Consumer Affairs) and Ralph Nader. The Furnesses and Naders had “stampeded” both the White House and the Congress, particularly the latter; the National Legislature had, in effect, been sold a “bill of goods” and the consequence of the law would be that many would be driven out of business by the government. There can be no gainsaying the fact that there is great resentment on the part of the many in the meat industry over the whole episode. And, many fear Uncle Sam is driving them out of business for misguided reasons.1

The concerns of the Senate report have come to pass; in 1967 there were nearly 10,000 slaughterhouses; as of January 1, 2017, there were 2,732. Many of the slaughterhouses shutting down were community slaughterhouses which provided access to slaughtering and processing for small livestock farmers. As the community slaughterhouses went out of business, many livestock farmers did as well. Today, there are livestock farmers who have to make reservations to get their animals slaughtered at an inspected facility a year in advance due to the shortage of slaughterhouses in their area.

Months after the WMA became law the weekly newspaper, the National Observer, published its own findings about the passage of the WMA. The May 20, 1968, edition of the paper stated the following:

Agents of the Federal Government fanned out across the nation last July under urgent and explicit instructions from Washington to gather examples of horrid conditions in meat-processing plants not under U.S. Government control. Swiftly and often with calculated deception, the Federal men got what they were ordered to get. These findings, which were widely accepted as factual and unbiased Government inspection reports, painted a picture of widespread filth in meat handling. These reports were later to be used as undisputed authority for scare stories that frightened the public and helped stampede Congress into passage of a new and tougher Federal meat-inspection law–the Wholesome Meat Act of 1967.

What can be confirmed is the nasty fact that the “evidence” gathered last July was deliberately biased, that the tainted reports were used to mislead Congress and the public, that they put a lie in the mouth of President Johnson, duped a large number of well-meaning people, including Ralph Nader and Betty Furness and did a superb con job on much of the nation’s press….

The stench of the filthy-meat survey began sweeping out belatedly early this year when state and industry officials challenged the authority of some of the inspectors’ findings. An investigation by this newspaper revealed that U.S. inspectors had, indeed, fudged on some facts…and that other reports were doctored in Washington to make them sound even more damning than they were.2

The WMA has not improved food safety. There have been numerous foodborne illness outbreaks attributed to consumption of inspected meat in recent years and the number of recalls of meat products has increased substantially from what it once was. FSIS inspectors have the thankless task of trying to maintain quality control in USDA plants that slaughter 300-400 cattle per hour. These large slaughterhouses have come about as a result of the consolidation of the meat industry; currently, only four companies control over 80% of the beef processing in this country; four companies control over 60% of pork processing.

The antidote to the disastrous effects of the WMA is for Congress to pass the “Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption Act” (H.R. 2657 and S. 1232), also known as the PRIME Act.

Passage of the PRIME Act would give states the option of allowing the intrastate sale of meat slaughtered and processed at a custom facility direct to the consumer or to hotels, restaurants and retail stores; a custom facility could be located at a farm. Please read action alert on H.R. 2657 by the Weston A. Price Foundation and call your U.S. Representative asking him or her to co-sponsor H.R. 2657.

If the PRIME Act passes, Maine farmers could potentially be able to sell the meat from on-farm slaughtered animals to those in their community as LD 725 originally intended. This is something that has been going on for sometime in various ethnic communities in the U.S., including Latino, African, Southeast Asian, and European communities. If there have been any food safety problems with this practice, there have been few, if any, reports in the media.

The Wholesome Meat Act of 1967 was a solution in search of a problem that wound up creating much bigger problems than it was meant to solve. Passage of the PRIME Act is an important step towards rebuilding the slaughterhouse infrastructure in this country and enabling livestock farmers to make a better living and meet the demand for quality locally produced meat.

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1. United States. Small Business Administration and United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on Small Business. The Effects of the Wholesome Meat Act of 1967 Upon Small Business: A Study of One Industry’s Economic Problems Resulting from Environmental-consumer Legislation. U.S. Govt. Print. Off, Washington, 1971. pp. 11-12.

2. Naughton, Dennis. The Wholesome Meat Act and Intrastate Meat Plants. Creighton Law Review, vol. 4, 1970. Footnote 19, pp. 88-89.

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Michigan MDARD’s Farewell Present to Mark Baker

This past June heritage breed hog farmer Mark Baker announced that he was getting out of commercial farming and would be moving to a smaller farm where he and his family would continue to grow their own food. After a four-year battle with the state of Michigan over his challenge to an Invasive Species Order (ISO) on feral hogs, Baker had grown tired of dealing with state agencies and an unfavorable regulatory climate and was ready to move on to homesteading. Little did he know that the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) was going to give him a final reminder of why he wanted out of commercial farming.

Baker operates a custom slaughterhouse on his farm in Missaukee County, mainly slaughtering and processing chickens for some 200 families in his community. He also has a permit from MDARD enabling him to sell chicken and pork raised on his farm and each year pays a renewal fee for the permit. His plan was to keep the permit and continue sales of pork and chicken until he sold the farm.

In July Baker received a letter from MDARD stating that he was being denied a permit to conduct his custom slaughter business because he hadn’t paid his renewal fee. When Baker’s wife Jill produced the canceled check showing he had paid, the department changed its story, now claiming it was denying the permit because Baker refused to let MDARD officials conduct an inspection of his farm during a December 2015 raid of his farm, Baker’s Green Acres (BGA). MDARD had obtained a warrant to search the farm; someone contacted the department to notify it that there was a picture in a magazine story of a chef holding a ham that the story said was produced by BGA. MDARD wanted to search Baker’s premises to make sure the meat he was selling was slaughtered and processed at a USDA facility.

Baker responded to this latest accusation by explaining that he hadn’t refused an inspection but had only asked the inspectors to wait until some friends of his arrived at the farm to observe the proceedings. The inspectors decided to leave rather than wait.

On August 5 MDARD relented and renewed Baker’s permit; before the renewal, an official from the department called a farmer who relied heavily on Baker’s establishment for her meat sales and told her that she couldn’t use the facility at BGA because it wasn’t permitted.

The harassment from MDARD over the permit convinced Baker to move his timetable up on his sales of chicken and pork; on August 27 Baker decided to surrender his permit saying that MDARD’s jurisdiction over his business was like a forced partnership that he no longer wanted to have. It’s the kind of partnership where the farmer supplies the labor and innovation and MDARD supplies the red tape.

Baker said that regulation by MDARD is not about food safety but control; a belief many others hold. He pointed out that bureaucrats should not be able to use their influence to pick winners and losers. He said that he was no longer going to put his family through MDARD’s harassment.

The MDARD permit denial of BGA was retribution for Baker’s successful challenge to the ISO on feral swine issued by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in December 2010. The ISO, which had the strong backing of the Michigan Pork Producers Association prohibited the possession of a number of breeds of swine. When asked to clarify what the ISO meant, DNR issued a declaratory ruling establishing that whether a pig violated the ISO was not going to be determined by whether the pig was living in the wild or outside containment but rather on its physical characteristics. According to the declaratory ruling, a pig could be prohibited if it has either “curly or straight tail structure” or “either erect or folded/floppy ear structure.”

Baker, who was raising heritage breed mangalitsa pigs, filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the ISO in April 2012. DNR, through the state attorney general, responded to the lawsuit by filing a countersuit of its own, seeking to have Baker’s pigs condemned and destroyed for violating the ISO. Later, after Baker became publicly critical of Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette for his handling of the case, DNR amended its complaint and sought a court order fining Baker $700,000–$10,000 for each pig Baker owned that it claimed was illegal.

Just weeks before the case was to go to trail, DNR changed its position on Baker’s pigs, now saying they were legal; this shift by the agency resulted in the dismissal of both Baker’s lawsuit and DNR’s countersuit in February 2014. DNR officials did not want the case to go to trial because they knew Baker would expose the declaratory ruling for the sham that it was. DNR subsequently withdrew the declaratory ruling but the ISO is still on the books to this day. As Baker has said many times, there is no evidence that there is a feral swine problem in Michigan.

Even though the focus has been more on DNR and the Michigan Pork Producers Association, MDARD was right in the middle of the creation of the ISO. Nancy Frank, state veterinarian in MDARD’s Division of Animal Industry, had a major role in the creation of the order. MDARD was also responsible for significant losses in Baker’s business because he stood up to the state. Shortly after Baker filed his lawsuit, MDARD employees started contacting restaurants purchasing pork and other products from Baker intimidating them into dropping their business with the farmer; Baker lost almost all of his restaurant accounts. MDARD also worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to inform slaughterhouses not to process feral swine, effectively limiting Baker’s access to those facilities.

Food produced at Baker’s Green Acres has never been accused of making anyone sick.

Baker and his family have paid the price for his successful challenge to government and industry’s attempt to create the conditions for cutting out the market share for heritage breed hog farmers. MDARD’s latest harassment was one final message to the farmer that it’s time to move on.

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Michigan Raw Dairy – How One Consumer Made an Impact


Michigan raw dairy consumers and producers owe Mike Lobsinger a debt of gratitude. Lobsinger, a retired businessman and leaseholder in a herd lease arrangement, along with farmers Joe and Brenda Golimbieski are the ones most responsible for a favorable court ruling establishing that consumers can obtain raw dairy products other than milk under a herdshare or herd lease agreement. 1 Thanks mainly to Lobsinger and his attorneys, John Stiers and Elise Arsenault, legal action taken by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) to stop the distribution of cream, butter and other raw dairy products to leaseholders at the Golimbieski farm was not successful, establishing a case law precedent. The case shows the power to make an impact that consumers have.

Lobsinger believes it is the consumer’s right to select the farmer from whom they get their food but also that it should be the consumers’ responsibility to do what they can to back up their farmer when the farmer is facing an enforcement action from a government agency. Lobsinger, who is a member of both the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) and the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF), went far beyond what consumers would typically do to protect their farmer in supporting the Golimbieskis.

In March 2013, MDARD issued a written policy, Policy 1.40 which legalized the distribution of raw milk through a written herdshare or herd lease agreement. Policy 1.40 stated that herdshare programs were to include distribution of only raw whole milk and that products such as butter, yogurt and cheese, etc., could only be sold or distributed by licensed producers. The “catch 22” is that Michigan law prohibits even licensed producers from selling products such as raw butter, cream and yogurt.

The Golimbieskis, who have a Grade A dairy operation, Hill High Dairy, were distributing raw butter and cream under their herd lease program to consumers who had signed a herd lease contract. Lobsinger, who obtains raw cream to put in his coffee was one of them.

Whenever the MDARD inspector was conducting her semi-annual inspections of Hill High Dairy, she would seize raw dairy products she found in a refrigerator located in a utility room, on the farm. In 2015 MDARD filed a court action against each of the Golimbieskis, Hill High Dairy and B.J.’s Boarding, an entity that was formed to lease cows to those wanting to get raw milk. The department petitioned the court to issue an injunction prohibiting the four parties from among other things, distributing raw dairy products other than milk to leaseholders.

Lobsinger entered the fray by successfully intervening as a third-party defendant in the case, claiming that MDARD was interfering with his property right to have milk produced by his cow separated into cream. Despite the successful intervention into the case, Judge James Jamo issued an order enjoining the Golimbieskis, Hill High Dairy and B.J.’s Boarding from violating any applicable Michigan food and dairy laws. The Judge did state in the opinion granting the injunction that there was no proof the defendants had violated any laws.

During a June 2016 inspection of Hill High Dairy, inspectors again seized and confiscated raw dairy products, including Lobsinger’s cream; subsequently, MDARD petitioned Judge Jamo to find the four defendants in contempt of court for violating the injunction. Lobsinger successfully intervened in the case again as a third-party defendant in the contempt petition and also filed a separate action against MDARD in the Michigan Court of Claims, suing the agency on the grounds that seizure of his cream violated his due process rights. The relief Lobsinger sought included a ruling that “another individual or agent may separate Lobsinger’s cream and skim milk on Lobsinger’s behalf without MDARD licensure or oversight and may deliver Lobsinger’s cream and skim milk to Lobsinger as long as the milk and cream are used exclusively for the personal consumption of Lobsinger and his family.”

In December 2016 Judge Jamo ruled that the defendants were not in contempt, establishing a legal precedent that raw dairy products other than milk can be distributed under a herd lease or herdshare arrangement without violating Michigan law. Ironically, at the time the Golimbieskis received word about the ruling on MDARD’s inspection, MDARD inspectors were once again seizing raw dairy products at the farm as they conducted an inspection.

When the inspectors finished their next scheduled inspection in June 2017 without seizing Lobsinger’s cream (or any other raw dairy products), Lobsinger withdrew his lawsuit figuring that he already had a favorable ruling in the contempt case that he didn’t want to jeopardize and seeing that MDARD was no longer confiscating products it once saw as contraband during its inspections of the Golimbieski farm. Lobsinger made it clear that if MDARD tampered with his cream in the future, he wouldn’t hesitate to sue the department again for its violation of his rights.

Lobsinger hired attorneys to fight MDARD because he wanted the public to know that the department was going after individual property rights in seizing dairy products from the Golimbieski farm. A look at the transcripts in the Golimbieski court case shows the contempt MDARD had for the leaseholders’ property rights. MDARD’s attorneys characterized Lobsinger retaining another leaseholder to separate Lobsinger’s own milk into cream as an illegal activity. The attorneys claimed the case was about a Grade A dairy violation and had nothing to do with property and contract rights. MDARD’s position was that there was no difference between sales of cream to the general public and distribution of cream to the owner of the milk from which the cream was processed. The department was in effect claiming that if someone went to Lobsinger’s house to separate milk into cream that it would have jurisdiction and could stop this “illegal transaction.”

Fortunately, Judge Jamo wasn’t buying into what Lobsinger called MDARD’s “jibberish”. He asked MDARD attorney Danielle Allison-Yokum if there was any case law to back up this assertion; the attorney admitted there was not.

Lobsinger’s intervention changed the dynamic in the Golimbieski case. Instead of the focus of the case being on a Grade A dairy violation, it was on property rights. Lobsinger’s willingness to hire attorneys to protect those rights made that happen. It shows the impact one individual can make.

1 A herdshare agreement involves someone purchasing an ownership interest in a dairy animal or animals and hiring the farmer to board, care for, and milk the animal(s); the difference in a herd lease agreement is that someone leases the dairy animal(s) and has ownership rights in the animal(s) for the term of the lease.

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Making a Difference in Tennessee


The story of Michele Reneau serves as an example of how a consumer can make an impact in advancing freedom of food choice. Reneau, who along with Nate and Anju Wilson manages a Chattanooga food buyers club, was the one most responsible for turning a potential enforcement action by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA) into a legislative breakthrough and a new law benefiting food buyers clubs throughout the state.

Reneau, a Weston Price chapter leader and Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) member, has the right temperament and personality to take on government regulators. She doesn’t accept their general assertions of authority, contesting the regulators point by point—asking for specific citations in the law to back up their claims. She gives up ground to regulators grudgingly and is a strong believer that there is a legal distinction between the private and the public distribution of food.

Reneau, along with the Wilsons, manages the Weekly Fig, a private membership association. Among other foods, Weekly Fig distributes meats, eggs, raw dairy and baked goods to its members. On May 4, 2016, an official from TDA attempted to inspect the Weekly Fig’s facility for the storage and distribution of food. TDA had discovered Weekly Fig through the inspection of a neighboring licensed facility in the same complex. Reneau refused to let TDA conduct the inspection of the buyers club facility claiming TDA did not have jurisdiction over her operation. On June 6 counsel for TDA sent Reneau and the Wilsons a warning letter identifying violations the Weekly Fig had allegedly committed, including operating an unlicensed establishment, offering for sale raw juice, and offering for sale raw milk and raw milk products.

An informal hearing was held on the matter June 30 between a representative for Weekly Fig and TDA officials; subsequently, the department sent Weekly Fig correspondence upholding the written warnings against their unlicensed operation of a “food establishment” and their sale of raw milk, putting Reneau and the Wilsons on notice that “future violations of the same or similar sort—i.e. unlicensed operation as a food establishment or sale of raw milk—will be considered grounds for the Department to seek actions for injunction and/or criminal charges.”

With there not being favorable case law on a legal distinction between public and private distribution of food, Reneau took the legislative route to fight back against the threat from TDA. On February 8, 2017, Tennessee State Senator Frank Niceley and State Representative Kevin Brooks introduced, respectively, Senate Bill 651 and House Bill 702, legislation providing that no permit is required to operate “a farm to consumer distribution point” (e.g., food buyers club). The bills were amended to add that the facility must register with the state department of revenue for purposes of paying sales tax 1 and must agree to only allow deliveries of meats produced by farmers who comply with the Tennessee Meat and Poultry Inspection Act; these are both existing requirements the facility is expected to comply with anyway. On May 11, 2017, SB 651 was signed into law. Reneau testified at the Senate committee hearing on the bill and, according to Senator Niceley, did a great job. FTCLDF worked on the development of the bill.

SB 651 is a big help for farmers; consumers like their convenience and will go more often to a centrally located buyers club site to spend their food dollar than they would going to a farm. Unless there was an exemption from the permit requirement, many food buyers clubs would not bother having a fixed central location for the distribution of food.

It would be great to end by saying the government is leaving Weekly Fig alone with the new law in place but that hasn’t been the case. Even though state regulatory agencies have stopped bothering the food buyers club 2, for the past several months USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) has been requesting that FSIS personnel be allowed to conduct an inspection of the Weekly Fig facility. FSIS has broad jurisdiction to inspect firms handling meat products but almost never uses it to inspect a facility like the Weekly Fig’s. The agency is asking for customer records detailing meat purchases and sales. The Weekly Fig’s charter prohibits the sharing of member information with anyone.

Reneau doesn’t know who made the complaint to FSIS but it doesn’t look like a coincidence the complaint was made shortly before SB 651 became law. Reneau, as she did with TDA, is contesting FSIS jurisdiction to inspect the facility by requesting that the agency give her specific citations in the law giving it the authority to inspect Weekly Fig; she is not giving FSIS an inch until it does so. To this point the agency has yet to attempt an inspection.

What Reneau and the Wilsons have done is to realize the potential consumers have to make changes in the laws governing local food. They have shown it doesn’t take many to make a difference.

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1 Food sold for human consumption is taxable in Tennessee.

2 TDA has stopped pursuing any action against the Weekly Fig over the allegation that it was selling raw milk. The Weekly Fig does not sell raw milk and raw milk products, rather it distributes them to its members pursuant to a herdshare agreement; herdshare contracts are legal in Tennessee.

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Montana Becomes 43rd State to Legalize Raw Milk Distribution

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

FALLS CHURCH, VA—August 1, 2017—Montana has become the 43rd state to legalize raw milk distribution, doing so through a method that no other state has adopted. Montana residents can now get legal access to raw milk through purchasing securities, giving them ownership interest in a dairy animal or dairy animals. Dairy farmers wanting to sell stock in their animals need to obtain an exemption from the state securities registration requirement; the farmers fill out an application for the exemption with the Office of the Commissioner of Securities and Insurance (OCSI). Please do not contact OCSI.

OCSI has granted exemptions for stock offerings of dairy animals in the past including one in 2016 for an FTCLDF member selling ownership interests in dairy goats, but the Montana Department of Livestock (DOL), which has jurisdiction over dairy production and sales, had left open the possibility of taking enforcement action against producers under the exemption. During recent communications with OCSI officials, DOL leadership indicated it would honor the exemptions, changing its prior policy. DOL would still have oversight over raw milk producers operating under the exemption. FTCLDF member Chris Rosenau was instrumental in forging the breakthrough on the DOL policy. Rosenau has led the effort to pass a raw milk bill the last three legislative sessions in Montana. OCSI limits stock offerings to ownership in four cows with 25 solicitations (meaning a maximum of 25 stockholders) per offering. It is not clear at this point how many goats could be included in an offering, but the number is probably around the same as for cows.

DOL will likely continue to regard the typical herd share arrangements existing in Montana (and many other states) as illegal even though Montana law provides a strong argument for their legality.

Rosenau, who has spent thousands of uncompensated hours working for a change in the state raw milk laws, regards the new DOL policy as a foot in the door and a step towards expanding raw milk access in the state. She plans on working with legislators to introduce another raw milk bill in the next legislative session.

FTCLDF drafted documents for the farmer member mentioned earlier who successfully obtained the exemption in 2016. Montana dairy farmers interested in applying for the exemption can contact FTCLDFAgain, please do not contact OCSI.

Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, Rhode Island—seven states to go.

Attorneys for FTCLDF have spent a substantial amount of time working to legalize raw milk distribution in Montana. The goal of legal raw milk in all 50 states is in sight. Please help us continue our push towards making this happen by attending our fundraiser or by making a donation.

Media Contact:
Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund
703-208-3276, info@farmtoconsumer.org

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FDA Boxed in on Interstate Ban

For some time now, enforcement on the interstate ban of raw milk and raw milk products by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has looked to be an exercise in futility (only raw cheese aged 60 days or more is legal in interstate commerce). Thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens violate the ban in this country on a regular basis. FDA has stated that it will not enforce the ban against individuals transporting raw milk across state lines for their own consumption; to the FDA, it is dangerous when someone is transporting raw milk for consumption by a group of people but is somehow safe when it is only for an individual.

FDA’s last enforcement action against a raw milk producer, concluded over five years ago, has not deterred demand; more consumers want raw dairy products than ever. FDA has never publicly acknowledged that the ban has been a failure but once again it has the opportunity to do so and respect consumer freedom of choice. There are currently two petitions before FDA on the regulation (21 CFR 1240.61) establishing the interstate ban—one filed by Organic Pastures Dairy Company (OPDC) and the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) and the other filed by the Real Food Consumer Coalition (RFCC). Repeal of the interstate ban is long overdue; granting of the two petitions would be a significant step toward making that a reality. No matter what FDA decides, it is going to have to answer once again why it has not repealed a law that does not work.

On June 22, 2016, FDA received a petition from OPDC and FTCLDF requesting that FDA lift the interstate ban on raw butter. FDA’s only response to date has been a December 13, 2016 letter stating it needed more time to reach a decision on the petition. Federal law requires that FDA respond to a citizen petition within six months of its filing; unfortunately, the courts regard a statement from the agency that it needs more time as a satisfactory response.

More than anything the raw butter petition is a request to FDA that the agency obey the law; in establishing the raw butter ban, FDA violated and continues to violate the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA). The FFDCA contains a statute governing standards of identity for foods. Standards of identity are requirements prescribing what a food product must contain to be marketed under a certain name in interstate commerce. For instance, the standard of identity for milk in final packaged form requires that it be pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized and that it contain not less than 8.25% non-fat milk solids and not less than 3.25% milkfat.1 FDA’s long held position is that the pasteurization requirement can be part of the standard of identity. Standards of identity are intended to promote honesty and fair dealing for the benefit of consumers.

Congress has given FDA power to issue regulations establishing standards of identity for most foods, but there are exceptions and one of those is butter. The FFDCA specifically prohibits FDA from establishing a standard of identity for butter; Congress has passed a law defining butter that serves as a standard of identity for the product. That definition does not require butter to be pasteurized. The petition asks FDA to abide by the statutory standard of identity and to stop breaking the law in the name of the law.2

FDA justifies the ban on the grounds that it has the power to regulate communicable disease, a claim the federal government’s own statistics show has no foundation. If raw butter can be banned under this power, just about any other food could be, as well. The citizen petition notes that since the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) created the Foodborne Outbreak Online Database in 1998, not even one foodborne illness outbreak has been attributed to the consumption of commercially produced raw butter.3 There is one 2007 outbreak in Utah where homemade butter was listed as a possible cause for an outbreak as were raw milk and homemade soft raw cheese; given butter’s food safety history, it is likely that the milk or cheese was the cause.

The irony is that possibly more than any other raw dairy product, consumers purchase raw butter for its health benefits. FDA can do better than violate the law by banning a product that doesn’t make people sick.

The RFCC petition, sent to FDA on April 26, 2017, requests that:

“FDA exercise its enforcement discretion to avoid taking, and to cease taking, enforcement action against those who distribute unpasteurized milk and milk products in interstate commerce when the milk products bear labels that include in conspicuous bold face type prominently displayed on the statement of identity for the product: (1) a warning regarding the health risks of unpasteurized milk and milk products; and, when applicable, (2) instructions for safe handling, including self-pasteurization.”4

There is a precedent for the warning label requirement; another regulation, 21 CFR 101.17(g) requires that there be a warning label with a specific statement for juice that has not been pasteurized. The warning label and safe handling statements are intended to provide information and education to the consumer to address FDA’s concern that the agency needs to protect people from themselves.

The petition notes that the request it is making is in line with presidential executive orders issued earlier this year to reduce the regulatory burden on a Regulatory Reform Task Force that is required “at a minimum” to identify regulations that “eliminate jobs, or inhibit job creation; are outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective; impose costs that exceed benefits; create a serious inconsistency. . .”5 The quote is a good description of the interstate raw milk ban.

The RFCC consists of members of some of the bigger food buyers clubs around the country obtaining raw milk, including many mothers who will do whatever it takes to access the foods they believe best for their children’s health, even if that means violating ill-conceived regulations banning foods they have a legal right to consume.

The two petitions are pushing FDA to reevaluate the ban and do the right thing by repealing it. It is time for the FDA to honor freedom of choice and get rid of a regulation a federal judge once described as being in a state of “desuetude,”6 a word meaning “not being used.” A law not worth enforcing is not worth having on the books.

FTCLDF Code of Regulations states that a goal of the organization is “overturning the federal regulation banning the interstate shipment of raw milk (and raw milk products) for human consumption.” That day is getting closer. Thanks to  your support, FTCLDF and other raw milk advocates are winning this battle. Help us continue our push towards ending the ban by attending our fundraiser or by making a donation.

Footnotes:
1 Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. Raw Butter Is a Communicable Disease. June 23, 2016. Posted online at https://www.farmtoconsumer.org/blog/2016/06/23/raw-butter-communicable-disease/
2 Mark McAfee and Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. Citizen Petition to Lift Interstate Ban on Raw Butter. p. 5 Posted online at
https://www.farmtoconsumer.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/1-CitPetFDA-Butter-062216-1.pdf
3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Foodborne Outbreak Online Database. Posted online at https://wwwn.cdc.gov/foodborneoutbreaks/
4 Emord & Associates. Citizen Petition to Exempt from 21 C.F.R. § 1240.61(a) Certain Unpasteurized Milk and Milk Products if Properly Labeled. Posted online at http://hartkepr.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/2017-4-26-RFCC-Petition-GoFundMe.pdf
5 Ibid.
6 Judge Mark Bennett. Memorandum Opinion and Order Regarding Plaintiffs’ Motion to Amend Judgment. May 1, 2012. [PDF]

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eating-what-we-choose

Raw Milk Public Interest Soars As Politics Escalate

As Trial Nears for One Farm, the Supporters Take Action on Raw Milk Public Interest Policy and Access

Toronto, Canada– September 23, 2016—Raw milk itself is on trial, say supporters, at a Monday September 26, two-day hearing at the Ontario Court of Justice. The past year has seen an unprecedented rise in consumer awareness, demand, and action to obtain this food. Raw milk drinkers cite a number of reasons for drinking raw milk from health reasons and taste, to political. For some immigrants, raw milk is a staple food in their native country.

The Ministry of Health does not think anyone should be able to access raw milk or drinking the beverage. The hearing will be held in the court building at 50 Eagle Street, West, Newmarket, Ontario.

In January of this year, York Region, The Ministry of Agriculture and Food and the Ministry Health filed an application to get an injunction against the distribution or sale of raw milk against Michael Schmidt, Elisa Vander Hout, Glencolton Farms, Agricultural Renewal Coop and anyone who provides, distributes or recommends raw milk. The hearing is to determine if the applications can be converted into an action. If successful, this would change the dynamics of the procedure from a hearing to a proper trial. People interested in procuring raw milk want this case to appear before a jury. Our Farm, Our Food Coop, one of the many organizations in support of consumer choice, has filed a motion to intervene as an added party to the proceedings, which would give all members a voice to defend their right to the foods of their choice.

Elisa Vander Hout, spokesperson for Agricultural Renewal Coop, says that “In response to the court action instigated by various health units and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, mothers, fathers, pastors and other interested parties, have filed over 70 affidavits with the court to show the public interest in this case,” claiming, “it is not as simple as the crown implies.”

“These court proceedings give the public a voice. The message is loud and clear: people want access to the foods of their choice and demand respect for that. Canadians don’t want the government conducting armed raids on innocent, peaceful farmers to take away food choice,” Elisa adds.

On September 20, 2016, a petition was presented to the House of Commons to change the policy on raw milk. The government will review the petition, and issue a response to the 5000+ public supporters who signed it. The petition was in the top 20 ever for the official petition site.

Petition creator Cory Harris says “This petition represents a small sampling of Canadians interested in food choice and food security. Supporters have sent thousands of individually written letters to the Minister of Health asking the government to modernize their position.

Dozens of organizations representing millions of Canadians have signed a letter to Minister Jane Phillpott citing the science and research supporting our request. After 22 years of requesting progress on the raw milk issue, we expect to see constructive dialogue and change.”

Our Farms, Our Foods Coop is a 200 member cooperative formed for the purpose of boarding personal cows with a responsible dairyman. The group is just one of the many interested stakeholders in the petition to the Canadian Parliament. For additional information on raw milk www.realmilk.com

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NYU Student Advocates for Raw Milk

The Revolution Will Not Be Pasteurized: Raw Milk and Food Rights in the 21st Century

By Alex Buchholz

Some think raw milk is one of those weird elitist trends – right up there with country clubs. Others think it’s downright dangerous. Since “raw” has become one of those confusing health-food terms, let me offer a definition: raw milk is not pasteurized or homogenized – it goes straight from the udder to the bottle. Seems pretty flawless, right? But, many people – most namely, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) – see this udder-to-bottle pathway as a breeding ground for dangerous bacteria and pathogens. In fact, the USDA and FDA have made it illegal to sell raw milk across state lines. Many states have laws banning the sale of raw milk under any circumstance. Tough crowd. New York State, for example, only allows the sale of raw milk when purchased directly by the consumer on the farm where it was produced. Do a quick Google search of “raw milk,” and you’ll stumble upon pages of government-sanctioned horror stories and warning labels. But, you’ll also find health-food blogs oozing with raw-milk devotees praising the product for its health benefits. They claim it can heal asthma and allergies and contribute “good” bacteria to the body’s immune system. But, these two camps seem to disagree – pretty significantly. So, what’s the deal with all this raw milk stuff?

Before we go any further, let’s get it out: I drink raw milk. And I love it. But, this is relatively new for me; I was not raised on raw milk. I was raised in a typical suburban, east-coast household – a lifestyle that taught me every morning begins with a proper bowl of cereal with store-bought skim milk. Growing up, I never once questioned the safety or health of my food– especially not my ultra-pasteurized, fat-free milk. At every check-up, my pediatrician extolled me for drinking my milk. It just seemed right – my doctor told me so; my parents told me so; the government told me so. But, against the grain of government regulation and most conventional medicine, I want to propose in this article that raw milk isn’t so bad and, in fact, it’s pretty healthy stuff.

Up until the early 1900’s, what we now call “raw milk” was just called “milk.” Our pasteurization frenzy came with the rise of industrial, centralized agriculture because people started getting sick from the milk they were drinking. Coincidentally, Louis Pasteur’s “germ theory” (the theory that illness and disease are caused by microorganisms) was also developed and proposed around this time. Pasteur, as a leading scientist, recommended heating milk to kill any harmful, disease-causing bacteria — this, he thought, would solve all of our milk problems. Now, milk could be produced in an industrial, centralized system and people would not get sick. Fast forward a couple of decades: pasteurization is now strictly enforced by the USDA — requiring almost all milk sold in the U.S. to be pasteurized. For safety. But, I want to propose that in attempts to “clean up” milk, we’ve actually drifted far from a healthy product. The majority of milk today is produced in a confinement system – cows spend their entire lives in small stalls and standing in their own manure. They are fed a grain-based diet pumped with antibiotics and hormones. But, we can put all of these worries aside because we’ll just pasteurize the milk to make it safe to drink, right? Well, it’s not that easy…

If we look at nature (something we in the Western, science-driven, compartmentalized, capitalistic world hate to do), we see that cows move around, graze on grass, and fertilize the soil with their manure. In our modern dairy-farming model, we deny the cow all of her natural instincts by confining her to a small space, feeding her grain, and letting her manure pile up on the concrete floor of a confined operation. We revoke the cow’s ability to express her true identity. And with this comes a product that is nothing like nature had intended – milk now comes out of the udder with an ingredients list that is miles long (containing things like antibiotics, added hormones, and things we’ll never be able to pronounce). So, we heat it up to kill these pathogens and homogenize it to make it silky smooth. During the pasteurization process, some beneficial nutrients and bacteria as well as some fatty acids are destroyed – although, I’m sure you could find somebody from the USDA to argue against this point until the end of time. In addition to this, some scientists argue that the universal implementation of homogenization (the breaking up fat globules to make milk smooth and consistent in texture) actually sparked our modern allergy epidemic. But, to get to the point: couldn’t all of these issues be products of our industrial, confinement farming system? We didn’t see an epidemic of major health problems from raw milk until the rise of industrial dairy farming. And now we are seeing the consequences of that industrial system.

Some people, myself included, see the correlation between industrial agriculture and nutrient-lacking milk, and push back – craving nutrient-dense, unaltered milk. So, in order to get safe, healthy raw milk, some farmers retreat from modern, scientific farming standards – now putting cows out on pasture the way nature has always intended. No antibiotics, no pesticides, no GMOs… just grass. These cows regain their identity by grazing, mooing, and making milk – just as they have historically. (Please keep in mind that by grazing on pasture, the cow not only makes tastier, healthier milk, but plays a significant role in the carbon cycle as she facilitates carbon sequestration and future biomass accumulation in the grasses she mows during her breakfast, lunch, and dinner. By grazing and eating, she keeps grasses short and reduces the need for soil tillage. We need her.) Paradoxically, this initial retreat to normal farming gave birth to a radical movement – what I like to call The Food Revolution: a quest for the purest, most natural foods in existence. Raw milk consumers inundated blogs and books with anecdotes about raw milk’s healing effects on allergies, asthma, and even autism. And today, there is a wide desire for raw milk. Though this demand is small, it edifies the emergence of an industry.

But, as aforementioned, the federal government has taken such a strong stance on pasteurization that legally acquiring raw milk has become nearly impossible. With the rising demand for raw milk (in addition to most small-scale and local foods), came the emergence of what I consider to be a food police state. The USDA and FDA started to crack down on pasteurization regulation – all in the name of consumer safety. Unannounced, USDA officials along with state police officers raided (and continue to raid) countless dairies suspected of producing raw milk. Farmers were placed under arrest and taken to court. Products were seized for evidence. Livelihoods were lost. But, for our safety, right?

Let’s get the facts right. Raw-milk-induced illnesses are few and far between and typically only affect those with weakened immune systems. Most raw-milk-induced illnesses are caused by contamination or poor farming techniques and are very rare. In the 2009 book Raw Milk Revolution, author David E. Gumpert illuminates the ways by which the USDA and FDA have, on occasion, exaggerated or implied unsubstantiated cases of raw-milk-induced illness. (I highly recommend this book.)  Still, the USDA persists in the fight – swords drawn. As I stated above, a quick internet search will turn up dozens of government articles advising against the consumption of raw milk. But, countless people have shared their success stories and would do anything to acquire raw milk. Interestingly, there have been some large-scale cases of disease and illness caused by pasteurized (yes, pasteurized) milk. So, there must be something more to this whole USDA story. Protecting the consumer is starting to sound a lot like protecting friends, former USDA leaders, and future USDA leaders in the big dairy lobbies. Many scholars allude to a revolving door that exists between big agricultural companies and the United States government. And, as of April 2016, the retail sale of raw milk is only legal in ten states.

So, raw milk is starting to look like a nutrition-science debate and a political / legal nightmare. But, I want to offer that beyond all of this bureaucratic ridiculousness comes a pure connection to health and the natural world.

I am a firm believer in the health benefits of raw milk. I believe that it provides my body with some positive nutrients and the correct ratio of omego-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids. I believe its microbial content helps strengthen my immune system – the stronger and more diverse my microbial community, the less susceptible I am to contract a disease or illness. I believe in raw milk’s purity – its connectedness to our earth and our ecosystem. And I also believe in the power of raw milk to change our agricultural regulation system. Oh, and it tastes good.

I am not advocating for a universal ban on pasteurization or universal consumption of raw milk because I am not sure if we could safely scale up raw-milk production to meet the demands of the entire nation. But, I am most certainly advocating for the right to choose. If I really want to, why can’t I buy milk that comes right out of the udder of a cow who has been on pasture participating in the carbon cycle and fertilizing the soil for future growth? Why can’t I have complete control over my health? I urge you to ask yourself the same questions – what does food accessibility really mean? Do we, in America, have the freedom to choose what foods we eat? This Food Revolution is as much about human health and environmental health as it is freeing foods from corporate and government control.

I recognize that I represent the lunatic side of modern food discourse, but I do so with passion and support. If raw milk isn’t your thing, that’s cool. If you feel compelled to dive into the world of raw milk, talk to your local farmer. Regardless of our individual preferences, we, as food consumers, deserve the right to choose what we put in our bodies. We must all play a part in this emerging Food Revolution. This revolution will not be pasteurized.

alex-buchholz

Alex Buchholz

Alex Buchholz is an undergraduate student at New York University studying English and Environmental Studies; he is focusing his writing on food policy and food-system reform. In his free time, he enjoys hiking, cooking, and rock climbing. He is originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — where he keeps a backyard garden and raises chickens.

 

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Canadian Raw Milk in Parliament

 

New Canadian Raw Milk Petition Grants Producers, Consumers a Possible Voice in Policy

 

QueenieCanadian raw milk is gaining appeal to the people of Canada. Canadian citizen, Cory Harris, has launched a petition directed to the Minister of Health. The petition states, in part:

“We, the undersigned, Citizens of Canada, call upon the Minister of Health to Modernize and amend the Food and Drugs Act and the corresponding Food and Drug Regulations, to permit the legal sale of, and/or access to, raw (i.e. unpasteurized) milk and milk products through small scale certified herd share programs, or other such suitable arrangements, capable of managing any associated health risks in a responsible and reasonable manner.”

In Canada, this petition is required to be brought before the House of Commons if it reaches 500 signature before the end date. As of this writing, the Canadian raw milk petition is over 3,400 signatures with an August 11, 2016 deadline for signatures.

The Canadian government is required to respond to each petition that is read in the House of Commons. The government has 45 days to respond to each petition that garners the necessary number of signatures. Once the deadline passes, the petition will be read in the House of Commons when they return from recess.

Canadians have the opportunity to make this the number one issue on the petition site with an influx of signatures over the next two months. This would send the message loudly and clearly that it is past time the Canadian government reevaluates its outdated position on the prohibition of fresh milk. Please sign the petition and ask your Canadian raw milk friends to do the same.

Different than the US, the Prime Minister’s cabinet is made up of sitting Members of Parliament (MPs). These members are elected to their position in the House of Commons and then chosen by the Prime Minister as members of his cabinet. The current minister of Health, which is the designated recipient of the petition, is Jane Philpott. She will most likely be the one who responds to the petition after it is presented in the House of Commons.

As the Canadian raw milk petition makes its way through the proper procedures, there will be many opportunities to ask friends in Canada to share and sign the petition, write letters and bring greater awareness of raw milk to the Canadian public. Make sure to stay up to date on what’s happening by following this blog.

To learn more about raw milk and other nutrient dense foods, visit westonaprice.org

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